Federal Judge Edward G, Smith of the Eastern District of Pennslyvania had reason to hope that Amos Miller would give George Lapsley, the court’s appointed expert “unimpeded access” to Miller’s Organic Farm’s facilities, meat and poultry inventory, records, employees, and other staff so that Mr. Lapsley could perform his court-directed scope of work.
Miller promised he’d comply with the court’s order during the March 9 telephone conference on his case.
But in a March 11 email to the court, Lapsley:
(1) states that Mr. Miller did not fully cooperate with his visit to the farm on that date; and
(2) therefore requests that the U.S. Marshals Service assist him both in accessing the farm (including its meat-and-poultry-related facilities, records, inventory, employees, and other staff) and in conducting his scope of work on the Miller premises.
The primary business locations for Miller and his Miller’s Organic Farm are adjacent to each other at 648 Mill Creek School Road, Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania 17505; and 672 Mill Creek School Road, Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania 17505. Miller’s meat and poultry related operations at those locations, including Miller’s facilities, records, inventory, employees, and other staff, are referred to in court documents as “the Premises.”
USDA contends that meat and poultry animals are slaughtered at these locations without federal inspection and distributed to other states.
In a new order, Judge Smith replaced hope with force, authorizing the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) to accompany Lapsley: (a) on his visit to the Premises on March 17, 2022; and (b) on his other visits to the Premises as the court’s expert when (i) Mr. Lapsley requests such assistance and (ii) USMS has sufficient, available staff to accompany him.”
On such visits, USMS is authorized to use whatever reasonable force is necessary to gain entry into the Premises and to ensure that Lapsley has access thereto: (a) any buildings, rooms, and compartments, whether or not sealed or locked —Including but not limited to trailers, storage areas, offices, records used for any meat and poultry related purpose, boxes, containers, freezers, coolers, etc.; and (b) any meat and poultry related inventory, records, employees, and staff. Such authority to use any necessary, reasonable force includes the authority to break open locks, to remove barriers to entry, and physically to remove persons from the Premises.
The Marshals are authorized to (a) enlist the help of federal, state, and/or local law enforcement; and (b) bring USMS contractors onto the Premises as USMS deems necessary to carry out the court order.
The court’s order permits Lapsley to make unannounced visits to the Premises; and effectively provides that if he were to communicate with the Assistant U.S. Attorney on this case in an effort to coordinate a request for USMS assistance, he would be required to include the defendants’ attorney in the communication. Because there may be occasions when Lapsley does not wish counsel for all of the parties to have advance notice of his visit(s), USMS shall provide a direct means for Lapsley to coordinate with USMS for assistance in accessing the Premises.
The court’s next hearing on the Miller matter is scheduled for April 12 at the U.S. Courthouse in Easton, PA. At that hearing, Lapsley’s access to the premises and Miller’s compliance with court orders will be on the table.
In addition, the judge is now looking to collect a $250,000 fine from Miller that was first imposed in July 2021 for Contempt of Court and held in abeyance. Payment of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) investigative costs is also due. Miller has requested more time while the government has demanded a good-faith payment of $50,000 within one week.
“Attorney Lafuente and counsel for the government shall promptly confer as to whether an agreement can be reached regarding the parameters of an extension for the defendants to pay the remaining amounts owed under the February 7, 2022 order,” Smith wrote. “If they can reach an agreement, they shall notify the court of the terms of the agreement. If they are unable to reach an agreement, they shall promptly notify the court and the court will set a new deadline for the defendants to remit the remaining funds to the court’s registry.”
Miller must also reimburse the Marshals Service “for its costs and fees arising out of its assistance to the court and Mr. Lapsley in this matter. Such reimbursement shall be paid from the civil contempt sanction amounts that the court has ordered the defendants to pay into the court’s registry. USMS shall submit invoices for such reimbursement to the court.”
Miller meanwhile has filed a 12-page document as a “Real Party in Interest” that raises questions about the legal authority of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and whether the U.S. District Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. The document does not appear to have gone through Miller’s Dallas attorney but was mailed directly to the court.
Miller did sign the statement, which says he has “every intention” of being compliant with the court. He requests fine payments be placed into a trust with the court while the “jurisdictional component ” can be “properly adjudicated.”
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